Free school breakfast program has big impact on local students

The school breakfast program provides thousands of students in our area with a free or reduced-price breakfast.

Officials say the program is important for students to be successful, but they’re worried it may not get the funding it needs.

Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to increase the school breakfast program by around $5.5 million over the next two years.

Shelly Fortner, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force, is worried that proposal won’t be approved by the state Legislature.

“This is impacting a great number of children,” Fortner said.

Fortner is hoping the school breakfast program will see an increase in funding.

“One small meal at the beginning of the day can make kids more successful, and we need to make sure that that’s done,” Fortner said.

Fortner said nearly 50 percent of the students in the La Crosse School District use the program and investing a little bit money can go a long way when it comes to improving Wisconsin’s future.

“If we can do this by fully funding school breakfast, making sure that food share is still a safety net for those who need it, we’re going to have a happier, safer and healthier community,” Fortner said.

According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, funding for the breakfast program was cut by 10% in the 2011-2013 budget and that money was never restored, which Fortner said is unacceptable.

“Studies have shown that kids pay attention more, they’re generally healthier and they have the capacity to learn when they’ve been fueled by a school breakfast,” Fortner said.

Kim Cable, the housing and community services director at Couleecap, said she’s seen the need for the school breakfast and other programs increase over the years.

“Forty-two percent of people who are receiving Foodshare are children. That’s especially important because we know when our kids are hungry, they don’t do well in school. They’re not concentrating on the things they need to develop,” Cable said.

Both Cable and Fortner don’t understand why anyone would want to defund the program.

“It is a little bit frustrating that we’ve got the neediest people among us and when they’re down, people want to continue to keep them down,” Cable said.

“Hunger is an extremely important issue. In a country that’s as wealthy as ours, there’s no reason it should be occurring,” Fortner said.

Couleecap said the free breakfast program is especially important for our area since La Crosse has a 14% poverty rate, which is four% higher than the state average.

It also says only 8% of households in the county are accessing the Foodshare progra, so it’s really important to help educate families about all of the support they can receive, including the school breakfast program.

Around 83% of Wisconsin’s schools participated in the breakfast program during the 2017-2018 school year.

Even though that sounds pretty high, a study by the Food Research & Action Center said that school participation rate is one of the lowest in the country.

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